10 things writers wish that non-writers understood

OneDoesNotSimplyExplainTheBook

Being a writer is a profession nobody seems to understand. Do you sit around all day in your pajamas? Do you use a fancy pants typewriter? Are you just making elaborate fantasy maps all day?

The answer to all of these is “usually no.”

So what’s the deal? Well … let me clear up a few misconceptions.

Nobody has time to write

We make time. That’s how it happens. Magic, right?

Pretty much all of us have day jobs, social obligations, errands to run, and various other life responsibilities.

Writing the book is the easy part

You heard me. Writing the book is the easy part.

What’s hard is revising it multiple times based on feedback from critique partners and betas, perfecting your query, snagging an agent even after they request a partial or full manuscript, staying motivated / patient while you receive a lot of criticism and rejection or radio silence, getting a book sold to a publisher, etc. etc.

It takes more than an idea

Trust me, just because you have cool ideas and great life stories and your friends love them does not mean they will be golden when you sit down to write them out.

Telling a good story out loud and writing a good story are two very different tasks.

Sailor Moon Writing

We don’t do it to get rich

There’s very little money in writing. The Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings of the world are the 1 percent.

Nobody becomes an author to make millions. Most don’t even make enough to quit their day job. We write because we love it — because writing, though incredibly hard most of the time, gives us an incredibly genuine sense of fulfillment.

Mental illness is not a prerequisite

We all know the stereotype: Writers are loners, losers, drunks, cat ladies/guys, and all-around crazy people who stick their heads in ovens.

While many famous authors have suffered from mental illness, most research on the link between mental illness and creativity is lacking. Writers can be gorgeous, happy, social people. They can be short, tall, skinny, fat, gay, straight, white, black, and every shade in between. Yes, they can also have depression, anxiety, or any other number of mental health issues. And yes, there’s a lot of self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-loathing that accompanies the writing life.

But it’s important not to glamorize mental illness or position it as a prerequisite to being a legitimate creative person. A mentally ill person won’t “lose” their creativity if they get better. If anything, their illness is as much a detriment, if not more so, to their writing (and their life) as it is a factor in their success.

Asking us what we’re writing is a BIG question

Um, so, I don’t know if you realize this, but asking writers what our books are about is a question that FILLS US WITH DREAD.

Summarizing tens of thousands of words into a few sentences and making them sound cool is super hard. So hard that writers call that summary “the elevator pitch,” and it takes a lot of thinking and effort to make it good.

Of course, that means we need to actually create and memorize our elevator pitch before we can tell you it. So try to be understanding and kind if we’re not quite ready to share.

We work even when we’re not feeling inspired

Key word being “work.” Writers have deadlines. Yes, sometimes, if we’re un-agented, we set deadlines and goals for ourselves because otherwise we’d never finish our books — but rest assured, these are real deadlines and goals, and we appreciate when you respect them.

What we don’t do is write only when we’re feeling inspired or are on vacation or enjoying a perfect day or the kids are out. “This shit is easy,” said no writer ever. We write whenever we can, as often as we can, even when the words don’t want to flow and we’d rather be watching Netflix because writing is fucking difficult.

Writing is actual work. Legitimate work. Like, there’s business involved and stuff.

Being unpublished doesn’t mean we’ve failed

Probably one of my biggest fears — and I think a lot of writers’ fears — is that if we don’t have a big agent or a three-figure book deal and our books aren’t being made into movies (reality: 99 percent chance all that is not going to happen), then people will think we’re hacks and that we’re cute for trying but we should probably give up now and find a nice office job.

This is not a realistic measure of our success.

1) It takes years to write and revise a manuscript. Years. It’s a slow process.

2) Most writers’ debut books are not the first book they’ve ever written.

3) Sometimes, after you get an agent, your book goes on submission but then nothing happens.

4) Even if a publisher picks up your book, it takes years before it’s actually in print.

So if we don’t have “good news” or any real update for you and it’s been months since we last talked, please be patient. We have to be.

We really, really wish you’d buy our books

If we are lucky enough to get our book published, you buying it means more than you know. After all, as you just learned, we work on these things forever.

If you buy and read the book, extra points!

If you leave a review online — we’ll love you forever!

There are a lot of real, meaningful ways you can show your support beyond a simple congratulations.

What Real Writing Looks Like

What real writing looks like.

Writing is ‘boring’

If you haven’t picked up on this yet, the writer’s life is kind of boring. It involves a lot of waiting. In fact, when we’re querying or our books are on submission, we refresh our inboxes a lot. Like, A LOT.

It’s certainly not glamorous like on TV. Most of us aren’t Richard Castle.

So please, please, please — don’t ask us when the movie is coming out.


If you have any questions about what it’s like to be a writer, please leave them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

How to make each character you write sound different

Jane Eyre

One of the foremost tips for writing dialogue is to make each character sound different.

Easier said than done, right?

Recently, I was reading Lyndsay Faye’s novel Jane Steele, a modern retelling of Jane Eyre where Jane is a murderer. One of the many things I adore about Jane Steele is how unique and endearing so many of the characters are.

Jane SteeleYou could easily cherry-pick a piece of dialogue from Jane Steele and match it to its speaker simply by knowing the following:

  • The butler, Sardar Singh: a man of careful words and prone to phrases like, “So often the way with _____.”
  • The ward, Sarjara Kaur: an eager girl who references horses every other sentence at least.
  • Mr. Charles Thornfield: openly bold, sarcastic, and teasing. He participates in exchanges consisting of mock insults, calling Sarjara “Young Marvel” or “tiresome changeling,” for example.
  • Jane: has a tendency for foul, unladylike swearing.

This makes Jane Steele an excellent example of how to write distinct character voices. By giving your characters a quirk as to how they conduct themselves in conversation, you can make them vivid and memorable.

The 8 most important lessons about writing you’ll ever learn

Lisa Cron’s Story Genius is one of my favorite books on writing, and it packs so much invaluable, hard-hitting advice into the beginning that it’s worth reading for the first 40 pages alone.

Story is imperative to our biology

Story Genius BookWhen it comes to story, we’re getting more than entertainment. We want to be engrossed because we’re asking ourselves, according to Cron, “What am I going to learn here that will help me not only survive, but prosper?”

Cron explains that humans evolved to work together, and storytelling plays a big role in doing that. “Don’t pet the lions” is an important message to communicate for our survival, but we need more help navigating the social world. “Sure, we can see what people do,” Cron writes, “but knowing why they’re doing it — which is what matters most — is elusive … That’s what we’re dying to know, and what we’re wired to respond to in every story we hear, especially novels.”

We don’t read to escape reality, Cron argues. We read in order to learn how to navigate it.

Story is not plot

Plot is what happens. Story is something bigger.

“A story is about how the things that happen affect someone in pursuit of a difficult goal, and how that person changes internally as a result,” Cron writes.

But, Cron argues, we’re learning the wrong understanding of story when we’re kids and our teachers give us prompts along the lines of, “What if Freddy woke up and discovered that there’s a castle in his backyard? He hears a strong sound coming from inside … and then … Write a story about what would happen next.”

What happens next isn’t the story; it’s the plot. Context — the meaning those events have for the protagonist — is what makes a story.

Good writing does not equal a good story

Cron says most of us mistakenly believe that the trick to writing a good story is to learn how to write well. So we study grammar and strive to emulate beautifully crafted sentences.

But that’s backward. We should be first learning how to tell a good story and worry about getting the writing right later.

“The conventions of writing — voice, structure, drama, plot, all of it — are the handmaidens of story, not the other way around,” Cron writes. “It’s the story that gives those beautiful words, those interesting characters and all that drama, their power.”

If all we wanted was beautiful prose, Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t be so popular.

Beautifully crafted sentences are just shells without context and meaning — without the story. When we read a book that moves us, we mistakenly think, “I want to learn to write luscious sentences like that!” when we should be thinking, “I want to learn to write the kind of story that would give sentences like that their power!”

‘Writing is like driving a car at night’ (pantsing) is bullshit

There’s an E. L. Doctorow quote that says, “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

That’s bullshit, according to Cron.

Most people aren’t natural storytellers. The best example I can think of here is Stephen King, who vehemently argues against plotting your novel — of instead “pantsing” your way through it, which has always struck me as terrible advice.

King is a natural storyteller, someone whose “cognitive unconscious has the innate knack of offering up prose in story form.” King might be able to sit down and starting writing a great story without knowing where it’s headed, “but when the rest of us follow suit, our stories almost always end up taking a meandering, disjointed, episodic route that often ends abruptly when we inadvertently drive off a dimly lit cliff.”

If you can move things around, your novel is in trouble

Rough drafts are supposed to be shitty, Hemingway said. And Cron agrees. She just has a problem with taking that too far — to, as author Anne Lamott says, “let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.”

Cron says that “chances are, after months of pantsing what you’ll see is a collection of events that don’t add up to anything — just a sprawling, aimless frolic. And trying to shape it only makes it worse, because there’s nothing to shape. … The very fact that you can move things around is a telltale sign that the novel has no internal logic.”

Yeah, Cron is a hardass. I kind of love her.

Plotters sometimes do it wrong, too

Plotting your novel is mostly right. But a lot of writers, Cron says, focus on plotting the wrong thing first: the external events rather than the internal story.

“Thus plotters begin by laying out the surface events of the story — beginning on page one — with little regard to the protagonist’s specific past, which is the very thing that determines not only what will happen in the plot, but how she sees her world, what she does, and most importantly, why.”

Or to put it more simply, “Outlining the plot first is like saying, ‘I’m going to write about the most difficult, life-altering series of events in the life of someone whom I know absolutely nothing about.”

BOOM.

The Hero’s Journey structure is misleading

External story structure models only contribute to the problem. Cron says “it’s deceptively easy to believe that all you have to do is ape the shape” — something big happens here, something dangerous there, instant gold — “and you’ve got a story.”

But story is more than a paint-by-numbers plot. The problem is, these models like The Hero’s Journey analyze finished works, not works in progress.

Writers follow these story models beat by beat, Cron says, and then wonder why their novel isn’t “nearly as engaging as all those novels, movies, and myths that the ‘story structure model’ was based on.”

In other words, you can’t create a good story from the outside in.

Be careful with ‘in medias res’

It’s good to start your story in medias res, meaning “in the middle of the thing” — as long as you understand that you still have to know the why.

Too many writers take in medias res to mean “plunge us into current action and explain it later,” Cron says. “… By leaving the ‘why’ out of the picture, the action often reads as a bunch of things that happen” — which we know is plot, not story.

My favorite books this year were all by women

Kristen Bell sloth

It’s December, which means soon we’ll have a whole new year of books to look forward to. What’s your favorite book that you read in 2016?

Without a doubt, mine is …

Uprooted

Okay, Uprooted is from 2015, but … sigh. It’s so beautiful. And powerful. And enchanting. It’s the best fantasy literature that I’ve read since Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle (my favorite series). I don’t often encounter genuine page-turners, but this is one of them. GO READ IT PLEASE.

Also, yay for positive female friendships!

I also have to give a big shout-out to Liane Moriarty, who’s my new favorite author that I discovered this year (her books are secretly amazing), and Ava Jae, who’s my new favorite debut author (go read her too, please!).

I finished my Goodreads challenge this year. Did you?

Let’s not be lit snobs

Illuminae

Recently, I borrowed Illuminae from the library and found this note inside: “So cool! But is it literature? Is this the future of novels?”

I promptly took a photo and then crumpled the note into a ball and threw it away.

Because ugh. Who cares about these things? I doubt that authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff were writing the book and thinking to themselves, “Gosh, is this literature? Are we writing literature right now?” and patting themselves on the back.

My fiancée and I rolled our eyes. We started making jokes. We pointed at our cats and said, “So cool! But is this cat? Is this the future of cat?”

The future of cat

The note has a tone of condescension that basically says, “Gee, I see why you like this. Space is nifty, especially to teens like you! But let’s think seriously now. Is this good? Is this actually worth our time?”

Because literature = good and non-literature = bad, obviously.

As for the “future of novels” jab, that’s in reference to Illuminae’s unique format. It’s a story told through emails, interview transcripts, diary entries, Wikipedia articles, etc. These resources 1) make you feel like you’re right there, living through this cataclysmic space event with the survivors, and 2) create the intentional feeling of a historical record. It’s an objective collection of very subjective witness accounts.

So look. Whoever wrote this, I have a message for you: Stop patronizing teens (and oh hey, adults too) for what they want to read. Stop acting like the content and the format is so inferior that you have to question, “Golly, is this going to be our standards for novels now?” because you’re not reading Dickens or Twain or Joyce. No one is worried about this except for you.

I threw your note in the trash as a favor to the readers that matter — the readers who love to read, the teens who read, the adults who read, and who shouldn’t have to feel bad about that no matter what books they choose.

Please don’t be a lit snob.

Your first novel isn’t any good

Author and YouTuber Travis McBee said in a recent video that no one should publish their first book. At times like these, I’m reminded of those old Animaniacs skits:

Doing nothing with your novel — good idea or bad idea?

Travis argued that “if it’s your first book, it’s not good. It’s not nearly as good as your third or fourth book will be. Do not publish it — you will regret it.”

He says instead to do a rewrite and then set it aside — then repeat for at least one more book after that. His point is that your skills will grow dramatically from your first book to your second, and your second to your third. Publishing that rough, early work will turn off readers who may otherwise become loyal fans if only you had waited until your skills advanced.

I … totally agree with him. Rarely are debut published novels actually a writer’s first novel. More often, it’s their second or third — or twentieth.

The first novel I completed was crap. At the time, I didn’t realize that, but I can pretty much look back on that manuscript now and shrug my shoulders and nod my head. Yep. Terrible.

Why was it terrible? Because your first novel is often your “practice novel.” You’re going to make a lot of mistakes in it. And it’s not that those mistakes can’t be fixed — if you really wanted to, you could spend years performing major reconstructive surgery on them. But there’s only so much you can do for a body that’s badly broken.

For me, the clincher was that I no longer enjoyed my novel after writing it. I was bored by it, and I didn’t care about the characters. Not really. I didn’t believe in my story anymore.

It only took me a few years of procrastinating in revisions to figure that out for myself.

Travis’s advice is to move on — shelve that novel, at least for now, and write something new. There’s a big chance it’ll be much, much better. Your first novel isn’t the only novel you have in you — it’s not your “one and only” dream book. Trust me. Your imagination’s a lot bigger than that.

Interview with YouTuber and Keeper author Kim Chance

I’ve only found a few YouTubers who I absolutely adore and who consistently vlog about writing, but the good ones are good, folks.

Kim Chance is one of my favorites. She’s the author of an upcoming young adult book called Keeper, which she’s currently querying to agents. And she’s just an all-around sweet and positive person, in her videos, on social media, and in email when I approached her about doing an interview. Take a load of these answers!

kim-chanceCan you share a little about yourself?

Hi all! My name is Kim, and I’m a 30-year-old military wife, twin mommy, and high school English/reading teacher.

Here are 10 fun/random facts about me!

1) I have a type A personality which means I am ridiculously organized and really enjoy making lists (bullet points make me happy) and color-coding things.

2) I ADORE red lipstick and polka dots. (If I had a time machine, I would travel back to the 40s in a heartbeat!)

3) My homemade mac and cheese is so good, it will make you want to slap your Mama!

4) I’m originally from Alabama, so I tend to talk in southern colloquialisms (see previous)!  Side Note: Yes, I have all my teeth, and no, I did not marry my cousin.  :)

5) My husband calls me “Muttley” because when I get to laughing really hard, hardly any sound comes out.

6) My favorite word in the English language is “irrevocable.” I love the way it rolls off the tongue. “Superfluous” is a close second.

7)I was once “hypnotized” at an event and sang “Oops, I Did It Again” it front of hundreds of people.

8) TV Shows I Fangirl Over: Outlander, Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Supernatural, Doctor Who, Reign, Downtown Abbey, & Once Upon a Time.

9) I cry during Disney movies — Every. Single. Time.

10) I like dinosaurs and zombies…just not together.

How did you get into creative writing?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Writing has always been something that I use to help me process the world around me. I have boxes of old journals and diaries I kept as a kid. However, I didn’t really get into creative writing until after I was married. My husband was deployed, and I spent a lot of time reading. I came up with an idea one day and a friend suggested I try writing it down. The rest is history!

You’re currently querying a novel called Keeper. What’s the book about? 

keeper

Oh goodness! I am so terrible at describing it! Haha! I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but I have always struggled with this. Here’s my blurb:

Magic always leaves a mark.

When the ghost of a 200-year-old witch attacks her on the road, sixteen-year-old bookworm Lainey Styles is determined to find a logical explanation. But even with the impossible staring her in the face, Lainey refuses to buy in to all that “hocus pocus nonsense” — until she finds a photograph linking the witch to her dead mother.

After the library archives and even Google come up empty, Lainey gives in and consults a psychic. There she discovers that, like her mother, she’s a Keeper: a witch with the exclusive ability to unlock and wield the Grimoire, a dangerous spell book. But the Grimoire is missing, stolen years ago by a malevolent warlock known as the Master. Now that Lainey’s true heritage has been uncovered, she’s the Master’s only hope in opening the Grimoire, where a powerful spell is locked inside — a spell that would allow him to siphon away the world’s magic. In an effort to force her hand, the Master kidnaps Lainey’s uncle and offers a trade: the spell for his life.

With the help of her comic-book-loving, adventure-hungry best friend and an enigmatic but admittedly handsome street fighter, Lainey must leave behind her life of books and studying to prepare for the biggest test of all. She must steal back the book … before her uncle and the entire supernatural race pay the Master’s price.

What is one thing you have absolutely loved about the process of writing Keeper, and what’s one thing that’s been a challenge for you?

I think the thing I have loved the most is watching the story take on a life of its own. It’s come SO far since the original concept, and even from draft to draft it has truly evolved. I never thought I could write a story like this. It has pushed me and challenged me so much, but I am so incredibly proud of it.

As for the challenges … well, gosh! There were just so many! Haha! One thing I really struggled with was my own stubbornness. Last year, I had several people tell me that they were struggling to connect with my main character, Lainey — this was when the book was still written in 3rd person. It was suggested to me multiple times that 1st person would allow readers to get in her head more. However, I was super resistant to this. I’d always imagined the story in 3rd and thinking about rewriting it in a different POV freaked me out! I fought it for a really long time until my editor, who I respect highly, made the same suggestion. I realized that I needed to stop being so stubborn and try to look at things objectively. When I was able to do that, I saw just how right those early readers had been. I made the decision to rewrite my entire book in first-person, and I am so glad I did. It revolutionized my book and the story is a million times better this way. So don’t be afraid to take risks. They can really pay off in the end!

You maintain a YouTube channel where you share advice on writing and chronicle your journey with Keeper. What have you learned from your foray into vlogging? 

I think the biggest thing I’ve taken away from vlogging is just how important it is for writers to find an active community to take part in. So many people have reached out to me and expressed how alone they felt until watching my vlogs and realizing that they weren’t the only ones feeling that way. Writing is so incredibly difficult and you need a support system. I’m happy to keep making videos if it means that I’m helping and supporting fellow writers.

I’ve also learned that you have to have some pretty thick skin. While 90% of my audience is incredibly kind and supportive, there are still those who go out of their way to be hateful and negative. I’m a super sensitive person, and it’s really hard not to get my feelings hurt when someone leaves a mean comment on one of my videos. I try not to take it personally though, and my own personal mantra is to always have courage and be kind. When people are ugly to me, I just make a point to pour out as much kindness into the world as I can. The world needs more kindness.

What advice would you give other writers looking to take the plunge and join YouTube?

Go for it! It’s a little intimidating putting yourself out there, but it’s also a lot of fun and super rewarding. My best advice is to be consistent, do your research so your content is quality, and put your personality into it! Also, don’t give up if your channel doesn’t take off right away. It takes time to build an audience. Be patient and don’t quit too soon!

You’re also active on social media — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. What best practices have you learned firsthand about engaging with these different communities?

Marketing yourself on social media takes a lot of time! I didn’t realize how time consuming it would be to keep so many different platforms updated and current. It’s so much fun connecting with people, but it also requires a lot of time and attention. My best advice is to pick 1-2 nights a week that you devote to social media. I’m always looking for people to chat with and I make sure to respond to everyone if I can. I adore being part of the writing community and I want everyone to feel included! I also make it a rule to not feed the trolls. I don’t respond to negativity unless I feel it’s absolutely necessary. There are better things I can do with my time. I also think consistency is key here as well.

Do you have any advice for writers who are a little puzzled over how to “brand” themselves as a writer on social media?

I think the word “brand” is a little scary sounding and confusing. What it really means (to me anyway) is making connections with people. The best thing you can do for yourself and your writing career is simply to strike up conversations with people! I am always on the lookout for new writerly friends and people I can talk to about my publishing journey. Be yourself and be authentic–don’t try to force something that isn’t you. It takes time to build a community (I like that word better than brand, don’t you?), but all it really takes is personality, conversation, and authenticity. Don’t be afraid to talk to people.

As for the more official “branding,” I would suggest creating a website and giving all of your social media pages the same design elements. I use the same profile picture for my pages and try to use similar design elements on each — this helps people to recognize me and make connections to things they may have seen on other pages. Cross-posting helps too.

I think it’s incredibly brave that you’re putting your efforts out there as you search for an agent and publisher for Keeper. A lot of writers would be afraid to take their journey public because so many of us fear failure. How do you overcome that fear? Is broadcasting what happens with Keeper about personal accountability (ie., a way to commit yourself to completing the book), or about something else?

I don’t know that I’ve necessarily overcome my fear. I just think my determination to see my dream realized is a lot bigger than any doubt or worry I might struggle with. I’m not special, really. I fear failure just like everyone else, but I think the difference is that I refuse to let that fear stand in my way. I think every writer just has to come to that place where they realize that the feeling of regret is far worse than taking a chance and not being successful. I would rather try and fail a thousand times than live my life knowing I let fear stop me from reaching my dreams.

As far as the videos go, there is a bit of personal accountability wrapped up in them, but it’s also about being honest and open in regards to the process. I think a lot writers feel very alone in their journey and I’m hoping by sharing my experiences that those writers will feel a sense of community. I have a heart for people, especially writers and I want to support and encourage as many as I can! We’re all in this together!

In your latest vlog, you talk about how you have often felt alone as a writer. I think a lot of writers are right there with you. If you could send a message to all the aspiring writers in the world, what would you tell them?

Remember, nothing worth having comes easy. I can’t promise you that you won’t face hardships. I can’t guarantee that you won’t want to quit a thousand different times. I won’t lie to you and tell you that everyone will always love your work — they won’t. And I certainly won’t tell you that this path is going to be simple — it’s not. BUT I can promise you that this journey is so worth it in the end! There is no greater feeling than finishing your manuscript and knowing that you’ve done what so many attempt, but never accomplish.

You are AMAZING, and the best advice I can give you is to keep writing and never give up! If you want something bad enough, you CAN achieve it. It takes hard work, but YOU CAN DO IT. I believe in you!  Just remember this: Dreams don’t work unless you do! So, never stop writing! Never give up, never give in! You got this!

Even famous authors like J.K. Rowling deal with rejection

Cuckoo's Calling

Rejection is the scariest part of anyone’s writing journey. It’s at the core of why we procrastinate — we’re afraid of what people will think. That they won’t like what we’ve written. That we won’t even like it. Rejection is synonymous with failure … right?

Wrong.

Rejection is just an agent or publisher saying, “Sorry, dude, not our thing right now.” It’s not an indelible mark that your story sucks, or that no one will ever want to buy it. Even if they were to tell you that outright, their word isn’t law.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone has the guts to tell another person that they shouldn’t be writing, or that their work belongs in the trash. THIS IS NOT TRUE, and it’s both immature and unprofessional. Plenty of the world’s most successful people were told they wouldn’t make it, but nobody gets to make that call for you.

With experience, you’re going to get better. Anyone who tells you otherwise is making an extremely biased judgment based on what they see at that exact moment. They’re not considering how you’re going to improve in a month or a year. And chances are they’re just projecting some insecurity about their own writing.

Rejection is just another step in the process. It’s the Magic 8-Ball telling you, “Sorry, try again” — you’ve got more work to do. The next best move is to keep querying (and polishing your query letter) and keep editing your manuscript.

Even big authors like J.K. Rowling have to deal with rejection. It doesn’t go away no matter how successful you are. What’s important isn’t whether you’re rejected or not — it’s whether or not you can persevere in spite of it.

At some point, you’re allowed to shelve the project and move on to writing something new. But be sure that’s what you want and not something you feel cornered into doing because you’ve accumulated a pile of rejection letters.

As long as you believe in the story you wrote and you’re still excited about it, keep trying.

Has someone ever told you that you wouldn’t succeed? How did you deal with that rejection? Let me know if the comments!

A cool writing technique from Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Let’s talk about Margaret Atwood.

I recently read her for the first time — The Handmaid’s Tale, which is now one of my favorite books (here’s my review on Goodreads if you’re curious). So I only just discovered that she’s the bomb.

She made a style choice near the end of the book that I thought was particularly clever. (Atwood does a lot of clever things, a lot of the time.) Take a look (no spoilers):

I reach the top of the stairs, knock on the door there. He opens it himself, who else was I expecting? There’s a lamp on, only one but enough light to make me blink. I look past him, not wanting to meet his eyes. It’s a single room, with a fold-out bed, made up, and a kitchenette counter at the far end, and another door that must lead to the bathroom. This room is stripped down, military, minimal.  No pictures on the walls, no plants. He’s camping out. The blanket on the bed is gray and says U.S.

He steps back and aside to let me pass. He’s in his shirt sleeves, and is holding a cigarette, lit. I smell the smoke on him, in the warm air of the room, all over. I’d like to take off my clothes, bathe in it, rub it over my skin.

No preliminaries; he knows why I’m here. He doesn’t even say anything, why fool around, it’s an assignment. He moves away from me, turns off the lamp. Outside, like punctuation, there’s a flash of lightning; almost no pause and then the thunder. He’s undoing my dress, a man made of darkness, I can’t see his face, and I can hardly breathe, hardly stand, and I’m not standing. His mouth is on me, his hands, I can’t wait and he’s moving, already, love, it’s been so long, I’m alive in my skin, again, arms around him, falling and water softly everywhere, never-ending. I knew it might only be once.

Now look at how the narrator retells the scene:

I made that up. It didn’t happen that way. Here is what happened.

I reach the top of the stairs, knock on the door. He opens it himself. There’s a lamp on; I blink. I look past his eyes, it’s a single room, the bed’s made up, stripped down, military. No pictures but the blanket says U.S. He’s in his shirt sleeves, he’s holding a cigarette.

“Here,” he says to me, “have a drag.” No preliminaries, he knows why I’m here. To get knocked up, to get in trouble, up the pole, those were all names for it once. I take the cigarette from him, draw deeply in, hand it back. Our fingers hardly touch. Even that much smoke makes me dizzy.

The scene continues from here, but can you see the difference? Atwood begins by rewriting the scene in the same way, only with less emotion — less romance, less sexiness, less intimacy. We can assume this is the more accurate version of events. She drops a lot of details, which makes the experience seem less personal.

The next time you’re writing a scene, you can change how the reader perceives it by looking at the difference between Atwood’s two versions. A scene that’s supposed to be special and memorable has more detail, more emotion, and longer sentences. But a scene that’s almost businesslike or routine, that’s almost uncomfortable? Short sentences, few details, and impersonal qualities (“Our fingers hardly touch. Even that much smoke makes me dizzy.”).

Has an author ever introduced you to a new writing technique that you enjoyed?

Why I’m rethinking how I buy books in 2016

bookshelves

Every book lover wishes they had beautiful, wall-to-ceiling bookshelves stacked with glossy hardcovers and pristine paperbacks. Another book haul from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, another five or six novels for the shelf.

I’ve not any different, especially when I watch my favorite Booktubers and wonder, “How the heck can they afford this many books?”

Like most people, I’m on a budget. That’s why last year, when my boyfriend and I moved to a new house conveniently located a few blocks from a library, we both invested in library cards. This means I can request books on my phone and then walk five minutes to pick them up once they arrive. This was probably the best decision I made in 2015 financially. (Total, I read 39 books in 2015, and a lot of those I obtained through my local library.)

Borrowing books means I save a lot of money. That also means that I don’t need to scrimp by purchasing books on Amazon for super cheap instead of better institutions, like neighborhood bookstores or other, less dominant online retailers — which tend to sell books for twice the cost but are better alternatives. I don’t have to buy books at all if I don’t want to (although every now and then I cave and pick up a couple, especially when I trek out to Half Price Books).

But never buying books doesn’t sit well with me because then I’m not supporting my favorite authors. That’s why, in 2016 and on, I plan to change how I buy books altogether and how I fill my bookshelves. With the exception of books I can’t find in my local library, I’m only going to buy books on one of two conditions: 1) I already know I love the author and want to support them by purchasing their work, or 2) I’ve read the book previously and adored it.

This works especially well for me because, for one, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on books, and I only own a couple of bookshelves anyway — so space is limited. This way, I can also give back to my favorite authors and cultivate a home library of my absolute favorites. I don’t re-read books very often, but I like to admire the ones on my shelves and maybe pass them on to my future kids for them to enjoy. A lot of books I tend to keep also possess sentimental importance to me, so there’s that, too.

How do you determine what books you buy? Are you making any changes to your purchasing habits this year?